Rebecca Whitman is like any typical high school senior.

She likes to read, play the trumpet and drums, is active at her church and in Girl Scouts and loves cross-country running, playing soccer and volleyball. She loves music and her playlist is eclectic, she listens to Switchback, Rush and Breaking Benjamin.

She's also a college freshman.

Rebecca, or "Becca," is dually enrolled as a senior at Weedsport High School and is completing a year-long program at the Clarkson School on the 640-acre campus of Clarkson University in Potsdam.

"It's basically for people who want to start college early," the 16-year-old said.

Becca didn't have to declare a major during the academically rigorous year the program offers — but she did, and chose to pursue chemical engineering with a material science and engineering concentration. She said she'll continue this major next year as a sophomore.

She's also finishing up her high school classes while on the college campus by picking up a macro-economics and political science class, and will walk in two commencement ceremonies in June at Weedsport and the Clarkson School.

She spent last summer researching drug delivery systems in Clarkson's polymer laboratory and found the first-time work galvanizing. She'd always been curious about research, she said, and was attracted to the idea of laboratory work and found herself very comfortable in that environment.

"It was really, really exciting," Becca said. "It was a new way to look at the sciences."

She "loves" organic chemistry and polymer chemistry, areas of study that future medical doctors typically must master before medical school. Becca's interest lies in research, she said, and she hopes to "develop drugs to cure illness — that's what I'm interested in doing as a profession."

For the next two years, Clarkson is where her heart lies, and she plans to graduate by the time she's 19.

"I'm trying to speed up and get to that point where I spend my day in the lab," she said.

She hasn't thought yet about pursuing a graduate degree.

A strong student coming up in Weedsport, her hometown, Rebecca's academic gifts were noticed early.

In the second grade, she took an IQ test. While she chose not to learn the results, in third grade she became a member of Mensa, the high IQ society that requires a 98th-percentile score to join. Because she lived out of state, she didn't travel to participate in the society, but found value in its resources, such as online classes, games and books.

Weedsport High School Principal Carolyn Widrick became aware of Becca as a fifth-grader, when her advanced brainpower prompted school officials to accelerate her to the seventh grade.

"Becca was not only academically ready, but socially and emotionally ready for a challenge," Widrick wrote in a collegiate recommendation. "It is safe to unequivocally state that Becca excels at everything she does."

When Becca is bored, she said, she signs up for online classes at Massachusetts Institute of Technology to teach herself a new language, or she plays music. Next year, she intends to audition for the university's orchestra.

Her singing could also use some work, she said.

"Music has so many links to math and science that people might not see," she said. "My music instructors were some of the most influential people of my life."

Staff writer Carrie Chantler can be reached at (315) 282-2244 or carrie.chantler@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter @CitizenChantler.

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